Is it alright to pay people to blog about a product?
Abbott recently put out an app for the iPhone regarding its infant formula Similac. The app “can easily track baby’s eating, sleeping … diaper changes … [and] predict the next feeding time”.
Now the controversy of formula substituting for breast milk is an old one. My dad, who was with UNICEF, was one of the pioneers fighting against Nestle and its baby formula. In the late ’70’s, I used to help him out with his presentations and one of the pictures used is that shown below of a mother breastfeeding twins — the one on the right was a boy and was given formula because “boys” were (are) favored; the one on the left was girl who was breastfed. Sadly, the formula-feed boy died shortly after the picture was taken.
So, that old issue is not the subject of this post (please go to Marketing Mama for a mother’s perspective). The issue is whether it is ok for pharmaceuticals to use paid bloggers to promote their products.
The pharmaceutical industry has long been criticized for paying doctors. For example, the ProPublica “Dollars for Docs” database continues the on-going debate of whether it is ethically okay for doctors to receive payment from pharmaceuticals. Many have even questioned whether doctors should see pharmaceutical sales representatives at all (for a discussion of this issue, please see Dr Howard Brody’s article “The Company We Keep: Why Physicians Should Refuse to See Pharmaceutical Representatives”)
With that backdrop, is the use of paid bloggers to promote the app a good thing?. For just as the public sees the “impartiality” of doctors as having been sullied by pharmaceutical money (because doctors should be primarily concerned about their patients’ health and not the product that they use), does the pharmaceutical industry “dirty” social media by paying bloggers to blog about their product?
Paying someone to do a TV or radio ad is generally accepted. However, paying someone to blog good things about your product? It’s like paying someone to say your “nice” at a cocktail party and then hoping that Michael, Sally, Ted or whoever then passes on the word that you are “nice” to someone else. A paid blogger seems to show that your product is not good enough (or that you’re not “nice” enough), so you had to pay someone to say it.
Now, a blogger who has not been paid, remunerated, or scripted — that’s golden. The person receiving the message from the blogger then thinks “wow, that product really works” — and it does for that blogger who has then decided to tell someone else. And, isn’t that the power of social media? But, does paying someone subvert that?
The difficulty faced is not about paid spokespeople per se, but that health issues and, more particularly, the perception (real or not) that your health concerns may appear to be playing second fiddle to a pharmaceutical’s profits.
So, express your opinion:
Boxcutters Gem #1221 – By all means “use” unpaid bloggers to “promote” your product. They’re your products best friends! For more, see my earlier post “Why paid KOLs?“